New Recording! “Transforming Forest” for Piano Trio

My work Transforming Forest (2018), commissioned by Montage Music Society for World Premiere at SITE Santa Fe this past spring, is now available for online streaming!

In the following video, I pair the ensemble’s gorgeous studio recording with my photography of the music’s inspiration: four site-specific land art installations by Andy Goldsworthy in the Presidio of San Francisco, CA. Video of a live performance of Transforming Forest on Montage Music Society’s Altazano Salon Series is also available for viewing.

Watch both versions below (or on YouTube here and here), and continue reading for my notes about this work.


studio video credits

Performed by Montage Music Society (Elizabeth Baker, violin; Sally Guenther, cello; Debra Ayers, piano). Audio Recording, Mixing, Editing, and Mastering: Rick Bolton (Rick_Bolton@iCloud.com). Photography and Video Editing by Nell Shaw Cohen.


Live Video credits

Performed by Montage Music Society (Elizabeth Baker, violin; Sally Guenther, cello; Debra Ayers, piano). Video by Vincent Stenerson. Photography by Nell Shaw Cohen.

ABOUT THE PROJECT

Transforming Forest was commissioned by Montage Music Society for World Premiere at SITE Santa Fe in March 2019. In this work for violin, cello, and piano, each short movement is inspired by one of four site-specific installations created by British artist Andy Goldsworthy in the Presidio of San Francisco: a park and former U.S. Army military fort in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. These remarkable installations were created by Goldsworthy between 2008 and 2014 using organic, on-site materials such as tree branches and soil.

Sites of urban wilderness in the Bay Area have frequently served as points of reference in my creative process. The Presidio’s landscape of eucalyptus and cypress was formative: my childhood home was steps from the sites where these installations were later created. Having made countless pilgrimages to these works by Goldsworthy, I felt impelled to formulate a musical response to these powerful places.

Goldsworthy’s four Presidio installations are transformed through the growth of surrounding vegetation, the elements, the passage of time, and visitor interactions. In my response, I sought to evoke different kinds of transformation connected to each of the four installations.

Wood Line

Wood Line is a long, curving line of eucalyptus branches (1,200 feet) placed along the forest floor. Many times, I’ve traced this path with my own feet—walking alongside it, or balancing on top of the branches themselves, the surfaces of which have become smooth from the wear of footsteps over the years. In my response, “Tracing,” a musical motif is continually “traced” through heterophony: picked up by each of the instruments in different tempi and registers.

Tree Fall

Tree Fall is a tree trunk suspended from the roof of a small, disused military building. The trunk and roof were covered in wet clay, which developed intricate, cracking patterns on its surface while drying. In “Cracking,” a dark, chorale-like music, conveying the womb-like interior of the building, “cracks” open into a rhythmically dynamic middle section.

Earth Wall

Goldsworthy created Earth Wall by burying and then excavating a sculpture made of eucalyptus branches from within a rammed earth wall at the Presidio Officers’ Club. A lively third movement, “Excavating,” evokes the spherical tangle of branches at the core of the wall through a building contrapuntal texture.

Spire

In the final movement, “Obscuring,” climbing gestures in the piano are juxtaposed with sustained notes in the strings to capture the spatial quality of Spire: a 100-foot structure made from Monterey cypress trunks thrusting dramatically into the open sky. Contrasting material in triple meter—tender at first, becoming increasingly robust—gradually takes over. This music reflects the stand of young trees surrounding Spire, which will eventually obscure it in years to come as these cypresses grow and mature.

Skylark Premieres “Transform the World with Beauty”

Skylark Vocal Ensemble group photoSkylark Vocal Ensemble. Photo: Sasha Greenhalgh.

I am thrilled that brilliant GRAMMY Award-nominated vocal ensemble Skylark will premiere my work Transform the World with Beauty on April 4, 5, 6, and 7 during their tour of Massachusetts and Washington, D.C.! Concert details are listed below.

​Skylark is one of the leading vocal ensembles in the U.S., praised for their “awe-inspiring” performances (Boston Music Intelligencer), and their “original” (BBC Radio 3), “imaginative” (Limelight Australia), and “engrossing” (WQXR NYC) programming.

Skylark commissioned me to write a piece for their program Masterpiece, offering musical reflections and reactions to the visual arts. Transform the World with Beauty, an 11-minute work in three movements, is inspired by the flowering of visual art and poetry in Victorian Britain during the 1840s-1870s.

Julia Margaret Cameron, "Pomona," 1872

The first movement, “My First Camera,” celebrates avant-garde photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. In my adaptation of an excerpt from Cameron’s autobiography, this pioneering artist describes the power of her creative impulse when she first took up the camera as a 48-year-old wife and mother. (Image: Julia Margaret Cameron, “Pomona,” 1872.)

“In an Artist’s Studio” is a setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti. She offers an incisive, feminist critique of her brother, Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and his obsessive depictions of an idealized woman. (Image: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “The Annunciation” (detail), 1849.)

William Morris, "Strawberry Thief" wallpaper design, 1883

The final, title movement is inspired by the work and ideas of William Morris. The botanical and mythological titles of Morris’ sensuous textiles and wallpaper designs are juxtaposed with lofty sentiments from his philosophical lectures and essays. These two strands of Morris’ world, disparate at first, come together into a hopeful vision of society “transformed” through the beauty of nature and art. (Image: William Morris, “Strawberry Thief” wallpaper design, 1883.)

Transform the World with Beauty will be recorded during Skylark’s tour, and I look forward to sharing it with you all! Sadly, I can’t attend the Massachusetts dates myself, but I’m thrilled to hear the concert in D.C. See the links below and visit Skylark’s website for more information.

THURSDAY, APRIL 4, 2019 AT 7:00PM
Fitchburg State University, Fitchburg, MA
Tickets

FRIDAY, APRIL 5, 2019 AT 7:00PM
Gloucester Meeting House, Gloucester, MA
Tickets

SATURDAY, APRIL 6, 2019 AT 3:00PM
Cole Memorial Chapel, Wheaton College, Norton, MA
Tickets

SUNDAY, APRIL 7, 2019 AT 4:00PM
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Georgetown Parish, Washington DC
Tickets

World Premiere of “Transforming Forest” at SITE Santa Fe

Andy Goldsworthy's "Tree Fall"
“Tree Fall” by Andy Goldsworthy. Photo by Nell Shaw Cohen.

Announcing the World Premiere of Transforming Forest (2018) for piano, violin, and cello, commissioned by Montage Music Society—Santa Fe’s chamber ensemble dedicated to music inspired by visual art.

SITE Santa FeThe World Premiere is presented by SITE Santa Fe, a world-renowned space for contemporary art. The program will be repeated on Montage Music Society’s Altazano Salon Series.

I composed Transforming Forest in response to the four incredible installations created by British artist Andy Goldsworthy in the Presidio of San Francisco. These site-specific artworks resonate deeply with me and I hope to share some small piece of that through my music. Visit my website about the project for descriptions of my music and the artworks that inspired it.

FRIDAY, MARCH 1, 2019 @ 6:00PM
SITE Sante Fe, Santa Fe, NM
Event Website

SATURDAY, MARCH 16, 2019 @ 3:00PM
Altazano Salon Series, Santa Fe, NM
Event Website

World Premiere of “The Sphinx and the Milky Way” for orchestra at University of Wisconsin

Painting "The Sphinx and the Milky Way" by Charles E. Burchfield
“The Sphinx and the Milky Way” (1946) by Charles E. Burchfield.

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Symphony Orchestra presents the World Premiere of The Sphinx and the Milky Way—my tone poem for orchestra inspired by the visionary artworks of Charles E. Burchfield. (Pictured: Burchfield’s eponymous painting of a sphinx moth!)

This work was written in 2011 during my studies at New England Conservatory, where it was given a wonderful reading and recording session. Listen to NEC’s reading.

SATURDAY, MARCH 2, 2019 @ 2:00PM
University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Symphony Orchestra
La Crosse, WI
Event Website
(Special shout out to The Institute for Composer Diversity, whose database led this orchestra’s director to find my work!)

Quintet of the Americas Performs “Watercolors” at Parrish Art Museum 11/11

Quintet of the Americas

Saturday, November 11, 2017, 5:00pm
Parrish Art Museum
279 Montauk Highway, Water Mill, NY 11976
Tickets start at $200 / $150 Members
Tickets and venue information

My work for wind quintet, Watercolors (2011), returns to the Parrish Art Museum in The Hamptons on November 11. This performance by the internationally acclaimed Quintet of the Americas will kick off the museum’s anniversary benefit party—five years after Watercolors was performed at their grand opening in November 2012!

Watercolors for flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, and bassoon was inspired by the watercolor paintings of Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967)—including one in the Parrish’s permanent collection, which will be on display in the galleries in conjunction with this concert. (Learn more about the connection between Burchfield’s art and my music here.)

Long recognized as leading interpreters of folk and contemporary wind quintet music of North and South America, Quintet of the Americas has spent over three decades commissioning over 70 works, performing over three hundred concerts throughout the United States, and in Canada, the Caribbean, South America and Eastern Europe, and recording eight CDs. It will be an amazing honor to have my music performed by this group!

Inspired by the natural setting and artistic life of Long Island’s East End, the Parrish Art Museum illuminates the creative process and how art and artists transform our experiences and understanding of the world and how we live in it. The Museum fosters connections among individuals, art, and artists through care and interpretation of the collection, presentation of exhibitions, publications, educational initiatives, programs, and artists-in-residence. The Parrish is a center for cultural engagement, an inspiration and destination for the region, the nation, and the world.

How wonderful to think that this will be the fourth time my music has been performed at the Parrish Art Museum. (See blog posts from the first time in 2012, second in 2013, and third in 2016.)

Writing for NewMusicBox

I was honored to be invited by the wonderful NewMusicBox (a publication of New Music USA) to contribute six columns as a guest writer during November and December 2015. In case you missed it, here’s a round-up:

New Music for Learning – The connections between music and learning shouldn’t only be a topic of interest for scientists or educators, but something that composers, performers, and presenters acknowledge and actively apply to their work.

Music Inspired by Visual Art – Music envisioned expressly for the purpose of illuminating, commenting upon, and conversing with visual art.

Why Landscape Music is More Important Than Ever – The intrinsic power of music to facilitate reflection and reinterpretation of life experiences makes creating Landscape Music a compelling approach to improving and deepening our connection to nature—a goal which is more important now than ever.

How Landscape Music Evokes the Natural World – What is the role of nature in culture? Why use the term “landscape” in reference to music? How can music symbolize the natural world? What are some of the specific approaches composers have taken to creating landscapes in their music?

We Need More (On-Demand) Films of New Operas – Making more live films of new and recent operas, and making those films readily available to the public, might be much more important to the future of opera than is currently appreciated.

Creating Points of Entry into Opera Through Video – Opera videos provided the “way in” I needed to become a fan, which led me to pursue live opera performances and eventually to compose opera myself. Now I’m looking for ways to help more people find their way in, too.

Music Inspired by Art in the Whitney Museum’s Collection

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the stunning new home of the Whitney Museum of American Art in the Meatpacking district of New York City. Three of the artists prominently featured in their wide-reaching inaugural installation of works from the collection, American is Hard to See – Charles Burchfield, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Chiura Obata – have been primary inspirations in my ongoing work of composing music in response to visual art. Each of these artists engaged with nature, place, and spirituality, and conveyed a powerful “musicality” in their images, although in very distinct ways.

If you’ve recently visited the Whitney, plan to visit in the future, or if you’re just curious, I hope you’ll enjoy perusing this little guide to music I’ve composed inspired by artists in the Whitney’s collection. Think of it as an art & music pairing menu!

Charles Burchfield

Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), Cricket Chorus in the Arbor, 1917.
On view at the Whitney: Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), Cricket Chorus in the Arbor, 1917. More information

The Whitney has an exceptional collection of works by Charles E. Burchfield (1893-1967), and it was at the Whitney at their 2010 exhibit Heat Waves in a Swamp that I had an impactful first experience with seeing his paintings and drawings in person.

Several of Burchfield’s early paintings are now on display on the 8th floor of the Whitney in a section dedicated to art related to music and sound. Appropriate, then, to pair these works with some music related to art!

My compositions inspired by the works of Charles E. Burchfield include an orchestral tone poem and a one-act opera (listen above).

Watercolors, my wind quintet inspired by four of Burchfield’s paintings, was performed at the grand opening of the Parrish Art Museum. Visit Beyond the Notes to see a complete video of that performance and to learn about Burchfield’s paintings.

Chiura Obata

CHIURA OBATA (1885-1975), EVENING GLOW OF YOSEMITE FALL, 1930
On view at the Whitney: Chiura Obata (1885-1975), Evening Glow of Yosemite Fall, 1930. More information.

On the seventh floor of the Whitney, you’ll find eight woodblock prints by the (in my opinion, vastly under-appreciated) Japanese-American painter and woodblock print designer, Chiura Obata (1885-1975). It’s a special opportunity to see these rarely-displayed works.

Obata’s woodblock prints and watercolor paintings of Yosemite, the High Sierra, and the internment camp in Utah where he and his family were imprisoned, inspired my piece Dai-Shizen (Great Nature) for flute and guitar (listen above). This piece was commissioned by Devin Ulibarri and Alicia Mielke and premiered last June at Boston GuitarFest. Learn more about Obata’s artworks and my music.

Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986), Summer Days, 1936.
On view at the Whitney: Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), Summer Days, 1936. More information.

My journey creating music inspired by art began in 2009 with Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), an artist long-celebrated by the Whitney. Summer Days, one of many exquisite paintings that emerged from the landscape of her adopted home in New Mexico, is on display on the 7th floor. A few of her abstract works are also visible on the 8th floor.

My music inspired by O’Keeffe’s paintings – especially her vision of New Mexico – has included an art song for soprano and chamber ensemble; an orchestral tone poem (listen above); and a multimedia video work (watch below). Visit Beyond the Notes to learn about Georgia O’Keeffe and my music.

Launch of Landscape Music, online publication

I’m excited to share my new online publication with you, Landscape Music: Investigating Music Inspired by Landscape, Nature, and Place. With this project, I hope to provide a platform for work by composers and musicians creating what I call “Landscape Music” and to raise the profile of related aesthetics, methods, politics, and philosophies.

Visit About to learn more about the goals and ideas behind Landscape Music, or dive right into my new content!

Interviews

Stephen Lias, Adventurer-Composer
As a self-made specialist in music inspired by the U.S. National Parks, Stephen Lias has been Artist-in-Residence at Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Denali, Glacier Bay, and Gates of the Arctic National Parks, and has written over a dozen park-related pieces.

Rachel Panitch: Making Music in Zion National Park
Fiddler, composer, and improvisor Rachel Panitch spent four weeks as Artist-in-Residence at Zion National Park in Utah, where she created several works inspired by the park and performed her music on site.

 

 

Essays

Composing Point Reyes from Chimney Rock
An in-depth exploration of my process for writing this orchestral tone poem inspired by the coastal landscape of Point Reyes National Seashore.

“Landscape” and the role of art in our understanding of nature – Culture is the way in which we humans necessarily make sense and meaning from the natural world around us, whether it’s through an Albert Bierstadt painting or a Disney movie.

Why Landscape Music is more important than ever – How artists best utilize our time, skills, and insights as creators to reconnect ourselves and our audiences with the natural world?

Why I started Landscape Music – I seek to explore commonalities, divergences, exciting new developments, unexplored potentials, and possibly to derive some general principles or practices for musical landscapes.

Additional content will be coming soon! Follow me on Twitter to receive updates.

I’m looking for contributors! Please let me know if you’re interested in writing for Landscape Music, or if you have suggestions of composers or works I should consider profiling.

Premiere of “Dai-Shizen (Great Nature)” at Boston GuitarFest, June 28

UPDATE: video recording of this performance is now online!

Movements (played continuously):
California
Topaz
Sunset

Devin Ulibarri
Devin Ulibarri

The World Premiere of Dai-Shizen (Great Nature) for guitar and flute will be performed by fellow New England Conservatory alumni Devin Ulibarri and Alicia Mielke on the Emerging Artists concert at the 9th annual Boston GuitarFest this Saturday, June 28, 3:00pm in Jordan Hall.

Alicia Mielke
Alicia Mielke

I am honored to have my music presented on this prestigious festival by these two wonderful performers!

Visit the Boston GuitarFest website for more information about this concert and for tickets.

Dai-Shizen and Chiura Obata

When guitarist Devin Ulibarri – who I previously collaborated with in 2011 on Triptych – asked me to write a piece for him and flutist Alicia Mielke relating to Boston GuitarFest’s theme of “American Odyssey,” I gravitated towards the woodblock prints and ink and watercolor paintings of  Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata (1885-1975). Obata lived and worked primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area and devoted himself to bringing traditional Japanese aesthetics and techniques into American art. Obata’s own “American Odyssey” as an immigrant deeply devoted to the culture and landscape of California was complex and richly represented by his artwork.

Chiura Obata, "Mono Crater, Sierra Nevada, California"
Chiura Obata, “Mono Crater, Sierra Nevada, California”

While composing this piece, I considered specific images and qualities I perceived in Obata’s art and used those as prompts for musical ideas. I felt the lush yet restrained, and powerful yet delicate expressiveness of Obata’s prints and paintings would be reflected very effectively by flute and guitar. On a more personal level, my choice to respond to Obata’s artworks relates to my own background as a Bay Area native and love for California landscapes, as well as Devin’s deep commitment to Japanese culture and language.

I was particularly inspired by Obata’s ability to follow his philosophy of dai-shizen (Great Nature)—nature as a source of artistic inspiration and spiritual harmony—throughout the best and worst moments of his life. Obata and his family spent over a year in internment camps during World War II, primarily in Utah. Despite these demeaning conditions, Obata strove to bring meaning into the lives of those around him. He founded an art school with his fellow internees and created stunning, emotionally charged watercolor paintings juxtaposing the dreary manmade structures of the prison camp against broad expanses of desert, mountains, and fiery sunsets.

Chiura Obata, "Sunset, Watertower, March 10, 1943"
Chiura Obata, “Sunset, Watertower, March 10, 1943”

New videos “California Zephyr,” “Horizon,” and upcoming premiere in Boston

California Zephyr – Video and Music Online

This video and music piece inspired by a cross-country train trip, created for the NYU Contemporary Music Ensemble, was given an excellent premiere performance with video projection on April 28 in the Frederick Loewe Theatre at NYU. Now you can watch the video online with live musical recording. I hope you enjoy it!

Horizon: New York #1 & #2 – Dance & Music Films Online


The audience at my April 29th recital saw the world premiere screening of version #1 of Horizon: New York, a short film I created featuring wonderful dancer-choreographer Callie Lyons and cellist Fjóla Evans. There are actually two versions of the video, shot in two different locations in Brooklyn (Brooklyn Bridge Park and Prospect Park), both of which are now available for viewing online.

Premiere of Commissioned Work at Boston GuitarFest

When guitarist Devin Ulibarri – who I previously collaborated with in 2011 on Triptych – asked me to write a piece for him and flutist Alicia Mielke relating to Boston GuitarFest’s theme of “American Odyssey,” I gravitated towards the woodblock prints and ink and watercolor paintings of the Japanese-American artist Chiura Obata (1885-1975).

Devin and Alicia will premiere my Obata-inspired composition Dai-Shizen (Great Nature) at the Emerging Artists concert on the 9th annual Boston GuitarFest on Saturday, June 28 at 3:00pm in New England Conservatory’s Jordan HallVisit the Boston GuitarFest website to learn more about the concert.

The Coming of Spring: Success

Thank you to everyone who came out to see my recital and the staged workshop production of one-act monodrama The Coming of Spring on April 29. This was an extremely special evening for me and the audience response was very rewarding!

The performance was well documented and I’ll be sharing video and audio excerpts with you in the near future.